By Ray Shasho
Robin Trower has everlastingly mesmerized rock enthusiasts across the planet with his intricate heavy rock and blues harmonics. The master of the Stratocaster recently released roots and branches an inventive mix of cover tunes spotlighting Robin’s favorite R&B, blues and early rock ‘n’ roll classics compiled with several explosive new tracks of Trower material.
The most memorable cover tracks of roots and branches is Trower’s impressive blues rendition of the Willie Dixon penned, “Little Red Rooster,” Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s, “That’s Alright (Mama),” and the Booker T. Jones/ William Bell composition “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Robin Trower instills the magic of his own genius into these timeless classics. Trower’s heavier rock and blues adaptation of “That’s Alright Mama” should inspire generations for years to come.
My favorite tunes on roots and branches are the back to basics Trower arrangements of “See My Life” and “Sheltered Moon.” “See My Life” runs deep; it’s an incredible hard rockin’ blues composition that wails … Trower Power!
Robin Trower has also established himself as a first-rate rock vocalist. Although Trower contributed vocals while with Procol Harum, during his quintessential period with legendary music partner and friend James Dewar … Trower’s only voice contribution to the classic lineup was a short dialogue at the beginning of the track, “Twice Removed from Yesterday. …I gave roots and branches (5) five stars.
The BEGINNING: In 1960, the British guitarist formed The Paramounts, which would eventually evolve into the progressive rock band Procol Harum. The Paramounts lone hit was a cover version of The Coasters classic, “Poison Ivy” (1964 #35 U.K Singles Chart). The Paramounts split-up in 1966.
PROCOL HARUM was formed in 1967 by The Paramounts Gary Brooker, lyricist Keith Reid, Matthew Fisher, Ray Royer and Dave Knights. After the immediate success of their Top 40 hit single, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (#5 U.S. Charts), the band added former Paramounts drummer B.J. Wilson and Robin Trower who replaced Ray Royer on guitar. The new lineup strengthened the band musically in preparation for touring. Ex Paramount Chris Copping joined the band by Procol Harum’s fourth release. The group scored Top 40 commercial success again in 1972 with the hit single, “Conquistador” (#16 on Billboard’s Hot 100). Progressive rock pioneers Procol Harum familiarized the world with their eclectic mix of symphonic rock, blues and R&B music.
Robin Trower recorded five studio albums as a member of the group … Procol Harum (1967), Shine on Brightly (1968), A Salty Dog (1969), Home (1970) and Broken Barricades (1971). Robin Trower later appeared on The Prodigal Stranger (1991) and The Long Goodbye (1995).
Trower left Procol Harum to form his own band. He teamed up briefly with singer/songwriter Frankie Miller, drummer Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull) and bassist/vocalist James Dewar (Stone The Crows) to form Jude. The group never recorded an album and soon disbanded.
THE POWER TRIO: In 1973, the inception of a new power trio would epitomize what would become Robin Trower. James Dewar on lead vocals and bass, Robin Trower on guitars and Reg Isidore on drums launched their brilliant debut album entitled, Twice Removed From Yesterday. Most of the songs on the album were written by Trower and Dewar. The album was the first of many recorded on the British Chrysalis Record label created by Chris Wright and Terry Ellis (Jethro Tull).
Robin Trower’s guitar styles were immediately correlated with Jim Hendrix. Critiques hurried to dub him “The White Hendrix.” I say to those critics …
You didn’t listen closely enough to the music. From the very beginning, Trower developed a very unique style of his own. Trower’s ingredients included a heavy dose of hypnotic rock with progressive, blues, acid rock and R&B overtones. The metaphysical lyrical content was delivered by the commanding voice of James Dewar. The mesmerizing musical qualities of Trower and Dewar instantly transported the listener’s mind musically into other worlds and dimensions. Of course there were guitar techniques that were similarities to Hendrix but Trower grasped the means and created a brave new style.Twice Removed From Yesterday established many of Trower’s touring setlist classics … the hypnotic “Daydream,” the unyielding “I Can’t Wait Much Longer,” the blues standard, “Rock Me Baby,” and my personal favorite track “Ballerina” spotlighting the haunting vocalizations of James Dewar. The album became certified gold.
Robin Trower’s next album, Bridge of Sighs (#7 on the U.S. Charts) became a huge commercial success and one of the most critically acclaimed albums in rock history. It was now evident that the band had created a certain musical mystique and allure over its listeners. Every song on the album was brilliantly composed and performed. The title track, “Bridge of Sighs” would become Robin Trower’s anthem.
In 1975, Robin Trower released For Earth Below. A magnificently engineered album produced by Procol Harum bandmate Matthew Fisher. Fisher also produced the first two Trower albums but this would be his last. Drummer Reg Isidore was replaced with Bill Lordan (Sly & The Family Stone).
Long Misty Days was released in 1976. The album reflected vintage Trower arrangements while the single, “Caledonia” actually found its way onto mainstream radio playlists. The album, Robin Trower Live was also released that same year.
In 1977, Rustee Allen (Sly & The Family Stone) was brought in to play bass so James Dewar could relax his role as the bands lead vocalist. The group also established itself as a mega concert attraction selling out arenas and stadiums worldwide and appearing on national television and radio syndicated music shows. In City Dreams, their fifth studio album was also released that year and became the bands fifth consecutive certified gold album.
Subsequent albums with James Dewar on vocals … Caravan to Midnight (1978), Victims of the Fury (1979) and Back It Up (1983).
Robin Trower Live releases … Robin Trower Live (1976), Beyond The Mist (1985), Live In Concert (1992), In Concert (1996), King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Robin Trower (1996), This Was Now ’74-’98(1999), Living Out Of Time (2005), RT @ RO 08(2008), Robin Trower at The BBC 1973-1975(2011).
In 1981, Robin Trower began a musical collaboration with Jack Bruce (Cream vocalist and bassist) with their debut album B.L.T. (Bruce - Lordan -Trower).
Subsequent albums featuring Jack Bruce on vocals and bass … Truce (1981), Seven Moons (2008) and Seven Moons Live (2009).
The 1983 release Back It Up brought in Dave Bronze on bass and Alan Clarke on drums. It would also be the final album featuring their legendary vocalist James Dewar.
In 1987, longtime Trower lead vocalist and bassist James Dewar became disabled after a medical error damaged his brain. A new Trower lineup was announced that included vocalist Davey Pattison of the Ronnie Montrose inspired rock band Gamma. The band released the album Passion.
Subsequent albums with Davey Pattison on vocals … Take What You Need (1988), In the Line of Fire (1990), Living Out of Time (2003), Another Days Blues (2005), RT @ RO 08(2009) and The Playful Heart (2010).
Robin Trower began a musical collaboration with Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music) in 1993 on the album Taxi which he also co-produced.
Subsequent albums with Bryan Ferry… Mamouna (1994) and Dylanesque (2007).
In 1994, Robin Trower released 20th Century Blues featuring Livingstone Brown on vocals and bass.
In 1997, Someday Blues spotlighted Robin Trower singing lead vocals.
Subsequent albums featuring Robin Trower on vocals … Go My Way (2000), What Lies Beneath (2009) and roots and branches (2013).
Robin Trower’s incomparable vocalist and bassist James Dewar died in 2002. Longtime Trower drummer Reg Isidore died in 2009.
I had the great pleasure of chatting with Robin Trower recently about his latest album roots and branches and about an amazing music career that has spanned over five decades. He’s a soft spoken gentleman and just a really nice guy. It became evident to me that his love of writing music, creating new ideas and playing the guitar, always has and will forever be his passion. He also hinted about another new Robin Trower album.
Robin had recently celebrated his 68th birthday.
Here’s my interview with guitar virtuoso/singer/songwriter/ producer … ROBIN TROWER.
Ray Shasho: Hello Robin …happy belated birthday to you!
Robin Trower: “Hello Ray and thank you very much.”
Ray Shasho: How’s the weather in London?
Robin Trower: “Very cold and a lot of snow about, not as much here in Hampshire but in Sussex they’ve had a helluva lot of snow.”
Ray Shasho: Your manager Derek Sutton called me earlier to make sure I was onboard with the time change. I consider Derek one of the very few geniuses left in the music industry. He sounds like a great guy too; it must be a pleasure to work with Derek.
Robin Trower: “Yes, fantastic, he looks after me and made it possible for me to make the music that I want to make and the records that I want to make.”
Ray Shasho: British artists I’ve interviewed tell me, while growing up in England; it was difficult to find radio stations to listen to early American blues and rock and roll. In fact, there weren’t many radio stations at all?
Robin Trower: “It was difficult, especially to get a hold of black music. Basically we only had one radio station and that was the BBC, they didn’t play rock and roll until they brought in Radio 1. But there were people who would bring music in and buy records from America. I was lucky enough to know a guy that had a communication with somebody at a record store in Memphis, and he used to send him a lot of stuff. So I was really lucky and got to hear music that a lot of other people weren’t hearing in Britain.”
Ray Shasho: I heard that black music… or early American blues, were only heard on underground radio stations.
Robin Trower: “Music like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, when they first came out in America, it was not released in Britain. So we got it a bit later. Also a guy named Guy Stevens opened up a specialist label called Pye International and he used to bring in stuff like that and release it in Britain.”
Ray Shasho: Robin, I understand that you were heavily influenced by R&B music, who was your favorite artist?
Robin Trower: “Early James Brown was a very big influence for me; he’s still my favorite artist even now, especially his live albums like, ‘Live at The Apollo’ which is exceptional and so inspired me. He set a standard with his band and his music and took it to a whole new level, it became a benchmark. Not only that, obviously there was a lot of other music, like I said …Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Albert King being my favorite blues guitar player, Jimi Hendrix my favorite rock and roll guitar player … there’s a lot of people who are important to me. But I was definitely inspired by rhythm and blues and popular music from America.”
Ray Shasho: Music critics always used to compare you to Jimi Hendrix … maybe some of your techniques were similar but I always heard a totally different sound and style.
Robin Trower: “Obviously he was a big influence on me, especially early on when I first started my band. But I always felt the songwriting and music I wrote were definitely my own.”
Ray Shasho: I really enjoyed your new release roots and branches and especially the way you added your signature sound to those classic cover tunes that obviously meant a lot to you.
Robin Trower: “Yea, these are some of the songs that got me interested in music, wanting to play guitar and all that kind of thing when I was young and they’re still some of my favorite songs, just great songs.”
Ray Shasho: My favorite song on the album was not a cover tune; it’s a brand new composition entitled “See My Life,” an incredible tune that wails Trower Power!
Robin Trower: “That’s the only song on there that was actually done live. Actually the whole thing went down in one take. Most of it was recorded in the same studio apart from some of the overdubs; the organ was done at a different studio and I did a couple of vocals when we were mixing at Livingstone Brown’s Studio.”
Ray Shasho: My favorite cover tune on the album was “That’s Alright Mama” …just fantastic!
Robin Trower: “Thank you very much. With that one and “Hound Dog” I was more thinking about the original versions … the original, “That’s All Right” being Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and the original, “Hound Dog” was Big Mama Thornton. With all the old songs that I’ve done versions of I didn’t go and listen to them, I just did them roughly from memory because I didn’t want to be influenced at all by the original version. I just used a skeleton idea of the song and came up with my own music for it, more or less like I’ve written the tune myself and came up with it.”
Ray Shasho: It’s amazing how many artists have made a living recording and playing mostly cover tunes. I think in your case it’s the complete opposite, that’s why this latest album is so rare and different.
Robin Trower: “I’ve been very fortunate …I continue to write and continue to come up with ideas. I’m very lucky in that way. I’ve obviously written a lot of songs and I’m still churning them out. The engine is my love of playing the guitar, that’s what drives the whole thing along.”
Ray Shasho: You’ve also stayed motivated, which is difficult to do, especially as we get older. How do you continue to stay so motivated?
Robin Trower: “The thing is …you always think the next thing you do is going to be great. That’s it! I’m going to do something great one day. Keep trying to do that thing that you’re going to be really-really happy with.”
Ray Shasho: Robin, you’ve already done so many great things.
Robin Trower: “I’m not ready to give up yet though. This morning I finished the arrangement for the eleventh new song, which I feel there’s enough for a new album.”
Ray Shasho: What is your process for writing new material?
Robin Trower: “I just write on guitar. I’ve got one of these Sony professional handheld recorders and I use a notepad to jot down all the ideas as I go. I’m continually updating it as I improve an idea until I’m happy with the material.”
Ray Shasho: There’s a new Jimi Hendrix album out entitled, People, Hell and Angels with twelve unreleased studio recordings and featuring guest artists. I was wondering if you listened to the album and also I understand you met Hendrix, but only briefly.
Robin Trower: “I haven’t heard it … but I’ll have to look out for it, if you say it’s good. I met Hendrix briefly while playing with Procol Harum; we were on the bill with him in Berlin. It was just a hello and goodbye sort of thing and that was it.”
Ray Shasho: In my opinion, James Dewar was one of the greatest rock voices the world has ever known, and an awesome bass player. The musical chemistry between you and he was so incredibly powerful, and the songs were mesmerizing.
Robin Trower: “Well, hopefully that’s what you hope to achieve with music, to make people feel like it’s taking them somewhere, that’s the ideal effect you should have with music. Jimmy was very gifted and he had a wonderful voice. We had a fantastic relationship, we were like brothers. We worked very-very well together; he was such a sweet guy.”
Ray Shasho: Not a lot is mentioned about how Jimmy Dewar left us. What I’ve read was a medical error left him handicapped and then years later he had a stroke that ended his life.
Robin Trower: “I’m not really sure and I don’t think anyone is really sure what happened. I spoke to his wife after it happened and she didn’t even seem certain about it, it’s just one of those things you know … but something happened.”
Ray Shasho: Do you still speak with Jimmy’s children?
Robin Trower: “Whenever I’m touring in Britain, I usually play Glasgow and see all three of his daughters. They’re all in their late 30’s or so now.”
Ray Shasho: I’d have a hard time visualizing Robin Trower playing acoustic guitar onstage, has it ever crossed your mind during your career?
Robin Trower: “Not really. I’m not very good at acoustic guitar playing really (laughing). I enjoy working on it because it gives you a different texture and maybe pushes you in different areas. But I play electric guitar, that’s my instrument.”
Ray Shasho: I heard you had a reunion with your old bandmates The Paramounts?
Robin Trower: “Yea, actually four years ago we did a Christmas show at one of the little Pubs we used to play in when we were together. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. The Paramounts were a good little band. We never broke through into the mainstream but we did quite well.”
Ray Shasho: Then of course many of your Paramount bandmates morphed into Procol Harum.
Robin Trower: “Gary Brooker started writing and that was really the core of Procol Harum … his composition.”
Ray Shasho: Procol Harum is a great band but I’m so glad that you left; the world may never have found out who the real Robin Trower was.
Robin Trower: “I wouldn’t have found out. (All laughing) They were writing so many songs and pieces and there wasn’t any room for me, so I had to leave.”
Ray Shasho: The first time I heard you sing I was completely blown away because you never sang. I think the only time I ever heard your voice during the James Dewar days was on the beginning of “Twice Removed From Yesterday” correct?
Robin Trower: “Yes, I did a talking thing, and that was the only vocals I did while Jimmy was with me. I hadn’t been singing because we had such great singers. But I did sing in Procol Harum.”
Ray Shasho: “I think you’re a great singer.” I became a fan of Robin Trower as a singer on the album Go My Way, especially the tracks “Breathless” and “Go My Way.” I thought the album was exceptionally good.
Robin Trower: “Thank you! I think what’s interesting when you are singing is that you’re writing is different and I think that’s given me a different outlet musically, because I’m working on the voice rather than coming up with a melody idea. It’s been a completely different thing and that’s been very interesting and in particular with this new batch of songs I’ve come up with, it definitely led me into some different areas.”
Ray Shasho: How about a sneak preview of what we may expect on the next album once it’s completed?
Robin Trower: “It flows on from roots and branches, that’s what I would say. I think roots and branches have opened up an avenue in terms of the writing and I’m really enjoying the moment, its seeming to come together really great.”
Ray Shasho: Robin, I ask this question to everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams Wish’ like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Robin Trower: “I would play with James Brown.”
Ray Shasho: “I figured it would either be James Brown or Jimi Hendrix.”
Robin Trower: “No, I wouldn’t play with Jimi Hendrix, he’s too good. (All laughing)”
Ray Shasho: Thank you Robin for being on the call today and more importantly for all the incredible music you give to us. Go on tour soon and please don’t forget about Florida dates.
Robin Trower: “I sure will it’s been nice talking with you Ray … Cheers!”
Robin Trower official website www.trowerpower.com
Order roots and branches Robin Trower’s very latest release at amazon.com
Very special thanks to “The Great” Derek Sutton and David Maida.
Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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